The Second Venice Set is well known within Whistler’s oeuvre. It has most frequently been exhibited to highlight changes in Whistler’s style and to underscore the popularity of Venice as a tourist destination in Italy and as an artistic subject in its own right. Another approach is to look at these prints from Charles Lang Freer’s perspective, namely, how his acquisition of the Second Venice Set came to shape his legacy as a connoisseur and collector.
Freer believed the best way to appreciate art was through looking closely—what he described as quiet contemplation and intelligent comparison of a few select objects. This kind of sophisticated visual understanding benefits from skills acquired through the direct study of works of art. Although he had little formal education, Freer learned from colleagues, mentors, and advisors who helped him hone his ability to “see beauty.”
With that in mind, the Freer Gallery organized an inaugural Whistler Object Study Workshop in June 2014. A group of emerging American art scholars participated in an intensive four-day study of paintings, prints, and other works on paper from the Freer’s unparalleled collection. Working with curators and conservators, participants honed their observational skills. As a culminating activity, each student selected a print by Whistler and wrote a short essay about the piece using the techniques of close visual analysis. This exercise enriched their understanding of the Second Venice Set and helped them to appreciate its appeal to Charles Lang Freer and other collectors in the late nineteenth century.